Oak Bluffs Council on Aging director denies wrongdoing

The Oak Bluffs Council on Aging senior center at 21 Wamsutta Avenue.
File photo by Mae Deary

The Oak Bluffs Council on Aging senior center at 21 Wamsutta Avenue.

Roger Wey, director of the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging (COA), has emphatically denied any wrongdoing over his handling of money deposited into the Quilt Fund, or any other finances associated with the Council on Aging.

Roger Wey, during his 2012 bid for an eighth term as selectman.

File photo by Ralph Stewart

Roger Wey, during his 2012 bid for an eighth term as selectman.

“All we’re trying to do is help people,” Mr. Wey said in a telephone conversation with The Times Friday. “We don’t need to do this, this is all above our job. To go to this extreme, it’s mind-boggling.”

Acting on the advice of town labor counsel Jack Collins, Oak Bluffs selectmen voted 3-1 with one abstention at their February 11 meeting to place Mr. Wey on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a police investigation into questionable accounting practices in the department he oversees.

Mr. Collins was made aware of financial irregularities with the Quilt Fund by town accountant Arthur Gallagher, who investigated after an unidentified woman notified town hall that her check from the Quilt Fund was declined at an Island Stop & Shop.

The Quilt Fund raises energy assistance money for senior citizens by selling raffle tickets for handmade quilts. The checking account for the fund has been dormant since 2008, according to the town ledger.

At the February 11 meeting, Mr. Gallagher told the selectmen that as he looked into the bounced check, he discovered multiple instances where funds received by the COA were not turned over to the town.

Mr. Wey weighs in

“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” said Mr. Wey regarding Mr. Gallagher’s claim. “His assistant Cindy first called me about the check in the fall. I spoke to him and explained it all. A few days later I had a meeting with the administrator [Robert Whritenour] and I explained the same thing to him. Then all of a sudden, six months later, this happens.”

Mr. Gallagher has a different recollection of the events.

“I never met with Roger about this,” he said in a phone interview with The Times.

Mr. Wey also maintains that he does not oversee Quilt Fund finances. “Glenna Barkan is a quilter, she runs the fund,” he said. “She sells raffle tickets. She controls the checkbook; all the donations go into her checking account. It has nothing to do with the town.”

Ms. Barkan concurred with Mr. Wey. “I’m the only person that writes checks on it and makes deposits,” she said in a telephone call with the Times Wednesday. Ms. Barkan said she has overseen the account since 2000. She estimates the account currently has a balance of about $5,000.

“Roger and Susan [Von Steiger] receive requests and determine the eligibility,” she said. “The quilters want people to have their privacy. We don’t want to know who’s getting the money.”

Ms. Barkan said that checks are made out to businesses, not to individuals, and that in addition to fuel assistance, the Quilt Fund helps people with a wide range of needs such as hearing aids, wheelchair repairs, and travel expenses for off-Island medical care.

“Whenever there’s a need, Susan and Roger decide that,” Ms. Barkan said. She added that the account had not been under the purview of the town since sometime in the early 2000s, when former town treasurer Paul Manzi said the fund could be privately managed.

Oversight

Mr. Wey steadfastly maintains that the Quilt Fund is privately run and not run by the town. “The Quilting Fund has nothing to do with the town,” he said. “The road race has nothing to do with the town. These are all separate. They all know that.”

Again, Mr. Gallagher has a different view. “That is false,” he said. “Things were in place to do the Quilt Fund, and for some reason he [Mr. Wey] decided not to put the money through the town process, and he set up a separate bank account.”

In a separate email Mr. Gallagher said, “The account is not part of the General Fund. It is considered a Special Revenue account under MGL Chapt. 44 Sec. 53 and 53a. and is subject to town procedures relating to the receipts/disbursement that apply to all departments.”

In the memo dated February 7, Mr. Collins said, “With only a few exceptions, all money received by a city, town, or district officer or department must be paid upon their receipt into the municipal treasury. With three inapplicable exceptions, such amounts are not available to an officer or department without specific appropriation, in this case by the town meeting.”

Mr. Collins also outlined the best course of action. “In my opinion,” he said, “it would be appropriate for you to conduct or make arrangements for having an investigation conducted to determine if laws are being violated and if all monies have been properly accounted for in this case.”

Overreaction

Mr. Wey also took umbrage at the way the matter was handled. “I don’t quite understand why I wasn’t asked to come to the selectmen’s meeting,”  he said. “That was only common courtesy, to say ‘Why don’t you come in, we have a couple of questions for you?’ I was blindsided. I was driving up to Boston and I got a call, ‘Do you know what happened at the selectmen’s meeting last night?’ I said ‘No.’”

Asked to speculate why he thought the matter was handled publicly, Mr. Wey said, “I guess there’s probably more than meets the eye on this.”  He declined to comment further.

Ms. Barkan also expressed dismay over the handling of the situation. “I’m very upset about this,” she said. “They didn’t have to treat Roger like this. They could have come to him quietly.” Ms. Barkan said the Oak Bluffs police had come to her house to discuss the matter and were due to return shortly.